By W. Elijah Smith/IlliniGuys.com
Rejoice Illini fans! We’re finally back in the tournament for the first time since 2013! Although this campaign was during unprecedented times, we’ve witnessed one of the best seasons in Illinois basketball history. After all of the heartbreak with the cancelation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March Madness is back! With that in mind, here are the top five things I want to happen for the Illini during this year's tournament.
5) No COVID Scares
The NCAA is taking all of the precautions to hopefully have a COVID free tournament.
4) More Raftery
This might be a controversial call since Dickie V is like the Pope of College Basketball, but Vitale either needs to retire or stay out of the Big Ten. His coverage of the Illinois vs. Ohio State game was painful, with more references to Duke and the ‘89 Illini team than the actual teams playing. He even called them the “Flyin Illini” at the end of the game. And Nick “The Quick” Anderson? When has anyone called him that?! ESPN needs to limit Vitale to Duke/ACC games. He literally moaned every time a Duke/UNC promo appeared.
Bill Raftery is probably my favorite analyst in the game. Great personality who doesn't take himself too seriously. He's comfortable to be the butt of a joke, if it fits in the flow of the conversation. I always feel like he's having fun talking about this game and not wishing perhaps he had drawn the assignment of another contest. Personally, I’d love to see more Raftery coverage of Illini games. He’s a veteran analyst who knows the stuff, does his research, and who doesn’t love those catchphrases! Can’t wait for some Ayo “ONIONS!” or DaMonte "getting the puppies organized" and we love when Curbelo "leaves the lingerie on the deck"!
3) Orange Krush to make an impact
After a whole season of fanless games, Illini fans finally have the chance to see their team in action. The Illini’s game against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals was their first game with fans in the house. Although attendance was limited to 8,000, Illini fans showed up in droves to cheer on their team, and their presence and impact was immediately noticed. There were even a few instances when you hear chants of “I-L-L, I-N-I”. With the entire tournament being held in Indianapolis, about 90 minutes from campus, the Orange Krush should be able to make any arena feel like State Farm Center.
2) Not to get embarrassed
It’s fair to say that a Round of 64 upset is unlikely, but after all anything can happen in March. The Midwest region is STACKED this year. The Illini have the possibility of facing the ACC tournament champion Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia. Illinois teams have been inconsistent in recent years and there is no room for error in the tournament. On the bright side, Illinois is entering the tournament with the most Quad 1 wins in the country (12) and has won 14 out of their last 15 games. Bottom line, the Illini are one of the best teams in the nation and although their region is stacked, they’re expected to make a huge run.
1) Make it to the Final Four
The road to the Final Four is never easy, but the Illini have the chance to make it all the way to the championship. After last year’s season being canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Illini fans around the country rejoiced when Dosunmu announced he would be coming back for his junior year. He’s been on a tear this whole season, averaging 20.7 points a game and shooting 48% from the field, and he was just named USA Today's National Player of the Year, possibly the first of several such honors. Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are one of the best one-two punches in the league, and with the great supporting cast of Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili, the Illini are a force to be reckoned with. Coming off one of the best seasons in school history, a spot in the Final Four is destined for this year’s Illini. With the tough road ahead, Illini has to face some of the nation’s best teams, but if there's any team that can do it, it’s the Illini.
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